What should you do if you get into a car accident? Here are some tips from Clinton Miller, a San Jose, Calif., lawyer and co-writer of "How...

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What should you do if you get into a car accident?

Here are some tips from Clinton Miller, a San Jose, Calif., lawyer and co-writer of “How Insurance Companies Settle Cases,” and Donald Beskind, a lecturer at Duke University and lawyer in Raleigh, N.C.

• Don’t leave the scene until the police arrive. Get a police report. If you have a camera handy, take pictures.

• Call your insurance company immediately. Company agents can offer advice and cover your medical and property expenses if the motorist who hit you is uninsured.

• Keep good records, such as names, dates and times related to everyone you talk to, including doctors. Be sure to get your claim number, and keep it handy. Make sure it is included on all correspondence.

• You should hire a lawyer if you have permanent scarring, loss of a limb, loss of a bodily function, had an overnight stay in the hospital, will require long-term care, or are not comfortable negotiating with insurance companies. You also should consult a lawyer if it’s not clear in the police report who is at fault.

• If the other driver is at fault, notify the driver’s insurance company that you want to file a third-party claim.

• The other driver’s insurance company likely will record your account of the accident. Be very careful of your wording. Insurance companies can use your words to prove you were at fault. Just say what happened. Don’t make guesses or assumptions.

• Get the name, phone number and claim number of the claims adjuster who assesses your car. If the car is totaled, look up the fair market value in the Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds.com and recent auto ads. Armed with that information, you can better negotiate your settlement. Be prepared for a tough negotiation with the insurance representatives.

• Don’t forget personal items inside the car, such as a new stereo system and car seats. If the car isn’t totaled, get a list of approved repair shops from the insurer and get estimates.

Have the repair estimates approved by the insurance company before you give the go-ahead to start the work.

• Some insurers will pressure you to settle your medical claim at the same time you settle your auto claim. Do not do this unless you have all your medical bills in hand and are sure no additional treatment is required. If you settle your medical claim too early, you will be responsible for additional medical bills later.